GaN Power ICs - Components for more sustainable ICT power systems

Many low-voltage power electronic applications are transitioning to gallium nitride-based devices, which can increase the system's energy efficiency and power density. Within the Green ICT @ FMD project, scientists at Fraunhofer IAF investigate how gallium nitride can be used for more sustainable and resource-efficient ICT power supply systems.

An article by Dr. Michael Basler Department Microelectronics | Business Unit Power Electronics
Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF

ICT systems boom

By 2025, the predicted amount of digital data worldwide will be 181 zettabytes (1021) or 181,000,000,000 terabytes. An unimaginable amount of data is growing year by year due to the advent of 5G, the growth of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and that needs to be processed by information and communication (ICT) systems.

Why Gallium Nitride for ICT Power Systems

The previous standard semiconductor material for power components in the low-voltage power supply of ICT systems is silicon, which is increasingly being replaced by gallium nitride (GaN). GaN is a by-product of aluminum production and is processed on wafers in systems based on the established silicon technology but with fewer process steps and thus reduced energy consumption. At the same time, GaN devices can be realized on a smaller area than Si, resulting in a higher yield of chips for the same wafer size. The faster-switching rates and better performance of GaN devices enable higher power densities with higher efficiencies than silicon-based designs. Another advantage of GaN technology is the lateral structure that allows additional integration of other circuit components and functions on a chip to the power transistor, referred to as GaN Power IC. Figure 1 shows the schematic comparison and development of a Si-based DC-DC converter design for power supply of ICT systems to a highly integrated GaN power IC version.

GaN Power ICs for a more sustainable future

Scientists at Fraunhofer IAF have been working on GaN technology and monolithic integration for more than ten years. This form of higher integration offers, in addition to higher compactness, lower component count, and lower cost, the reduction of relative climate impact and carbon footprint. The Green ICT @ FMD project is investigating the use of GaN power ICs in DC/DC converters. In addition to demonstrating a highly integrated GaN Power IC (Figure 2), the impact on sustainability and resource use will be considered and evaluated. The highly integrated GaN IC incorporates many functions of the DC/DC converter on-chip.

Functional integration in combination with the semiconductor material gallium nitride will hopefully lead to efficient, cost-effective, and more sustainable ICT power supply systems.

Figure 1: Change and impact from Si-based DC/DC converters for powering ICT systems to a GaN power IC-based design.
Figure 2: Highly integrated GaN power IC (block diagram and chip photo) for a DC/DC converter.